Lorena Gonzalez Calls for California to Set Clear Standards on Use of Rubber Bullets

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Legislation Would Curb Law Enforcement’s Unnecessary Use of Force Against Protestors 

SACRAMENTO – (Thursday, June 4, 2020) – In response to recent days filled with images of peaceful protestors maimed by rubber bullets, California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), along with Assemblymembers Dr. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) and Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), today announced they will pursue legislation to set clear standards on how these harmful projectiles should, and shouldn’t, be used by law enforcement. 

“No one who is simply exercising their right to protest should face possible injury or death because officers are indiscriminately firing rubber bullets into a crowd,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. “Breaking a city-imposed curfew is not a sufficient basis for use of rubber bullets. Crowd control where there is no rioting is not proper grounds to use rubber bullets. It is past time for the State of California to set clear standards on when and how these bullets are used by law enforcement.”

Rubber or plastic bullets, also called Kinetic Impact Projectiles (KIPs), are deployed by law enforcement as means for crowd control. They are increasingly used to respond to protests and are designed to incapacitate individuals by inflicting pain or sub-lethal injury, but researchers have said rubber and plastic bullets should not be used for crowd control. According to BMJ Medical Journal in 2017, three percent of people hit by rubber bullets died of their injuries. Fifteen percent were permanently injured.  Rubber bullets are only rubber on the outside but often contain a metal center that can easily tear through a person’s flesh.

“Millions of Americans have taken to the streets over the past week rightfully demanding change and sacrificing their safety in support of Black Lives Matter to take a stand against police brutality and institutional racism. As lawmakers, we cannot stand by idly while people are being brutalized as they are exercising their free speech,” Assemblymember Kalra said. “Rubber bullets should not be used to suppress freedom of assembly, peaceful protest, or to facilitate curfews and disperse people demonstrating. Taking away these tools that cause injury and escalate tensions is the first of many necessary changes that need to happen if we are to truly claim to support communities of color and address the persistent problems facing Black Americans.”

At a closer range, rubber bullets can penetrate the skin, break bones, fracture the skull, explode the eyeball, cause traumatic brain injuries, serious abdominal injury, internal bleeding, and spleen, bowel, and major blood vessel injuries. At longer distances, they can unintentionally injure bystanders and non-violent demonstrators instead. 

“Over the past week, we’ve all watched with horror as police violently target protesters and journalists with rubber bullets for no apparent reason, sending many to the hospital with serious injuries,” Senator Wiener said. “We need to re-evaluate use of rubber bullets by California law enforcement. We need more de-escalation and less military-grade riot gear, rubber bullets, and tear gas. I applaud Assemblymember Gonzalez for leading on this important legislation in this critical moment in our nation’s quest for justice.”

There is limited regulation on the development of these weapons. Manufacturers are not required to keep records on injuries from their products in development, field trials or actual use. There is also no legal requirement for law enforcement to collect data on injuries from rubber bullets or document their use of rubber bullets. The United States began using rubber and plastic bullets during the Vietnam War protests, but stopped the use in protests after a fatality in 1971. They were reintroduced in the early 1980s.

For media questions or to schedule an interview with Assemblywoman Gonzalez, contact Sami Gallegos: Samantha.Gallegos@asm.ca.gov